Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mashed Avocado Chickpea Salad

With so much food preservation technology, in terms of both additives and refrigeration, there aren't too many things that are immediately perishable anymore. But once you crack open an avocado, you better get to it. Not that this is a problem, mind you, but it does mean I have to challenge myself to make something other than ungodly amounts of guacamole, which I eat with reckless abandon. Avocado is a common healthy substitution for mayo, and I thought I'd give it a spin in my mashed chickpea salad, which has become a staple of my lunch diet.

Avocado adds a thicker creaminess than mayonnaise, but it comes with a lot more nutrition and flavor than even olive oil mayo. Lemon juice is there not only to prevent the avocado from taking on an unpleasant oxidated brown color but also to add a bright acidic note, punctuated by spice from the red pepper flakes. This sandwich is rich and filling enough as is, but it certainly wouldn't suffer if turned into a melt with a slice or two of oeey-goeey cheese.

Mashed Avocado Chickpea Salad
serves 1

1/2 cup cooked chickpeas, coarsely mashed
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
2 ounces mashed avocado (or 1 ounce mashed avocado + 1 T. mayo)
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice, or to taste
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro or other herb (optional)
Pinch red pepper flakes, or to taste (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Whole grain tortilla, bread, pita, or crackers for serving (optional)
Lettuce, greens, or alfalfa sprouts, for serving (optional)

1. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and stir well to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top bread with chickpea mixture and greens, if desired, and serve.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Red Flannel Hash

When it comes to quick dinners, eggs are nonpareil in my book. Father Winter reared his ugly head and after spending an hour or two shoveling after work, I needed a hearty dinner and I needed it fast. Red flannel hash often appears around St. Patrick's Day, but this ruby-hued beauty of a dish is a lovely meal all winter long.

My CSA provides an embarrassment of riches in the root vegetable department, along with some healthy (okay, disturbingly large) heads of cabbage, so this recipe is practically a love letter to the ingredients already in my fridge. The relative amounts of each ingredient aren't all that important, so assemble the ingredients in whatever ratio makes you happiest or helps you clean out of the fridge. After all, this began as a humble, hearty peasant breakfast, so there's no need to be to fussy with adhering to the recipe perfectly. 

Without too long of a cook time, the beets become sweet and caramelized, happily mingling with the starchy potatoes and crisp-tender cabbage. If you like your veggies with a little more texture, or simply can't wait to chow down, cook the eggs and serve promptly, but if you want this to stew the veggies down to a meltingly tender crimson mash before adding the eggs, it's equally delicious that way. The runny egg yolk glazes each bite with richness, but the traditional corned beef or some sausage or bacon certainly wouldn't be unwelcome for an even heartier meal.

Although it won't be red flannel hash without the beets, this template is still primed for experimentation with other root veggies, the celeriac and rutabaga in my fridge already clamoring for a starring role in the sequel. 

Red Flannel Hash
adapted from The Kitchn
serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 white or yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3-4 red or Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and diced small (or shredded)
3 beets, peeled and diced small (or shredded)
1/2 head red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
4-6 large eggs

1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and cook until the onions become soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, herbs, and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Stir until the garlic becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2. Add the potatoes, beets, and another 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir everything together, cover the pan, and turn the heat down to medium. Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until the beets are tender. Don't worry if the potatoes start to fall apart a little - they are meant to! As you stir, be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan every so often to work in the browned bits from the pan.

3. When the beets are tender, stir in the cabbage. Cover and cook for another 3-5 minutes, until the cabbage is wilted. Give the mash a taste and add more salt and pepper if desired.

4. At this point, you can serve the mash right away or you can turn down the heat and let it simmer for as long as a half an hour. You can also take the mash off the heat completely and re-heat it when you're ready to serve.

5. Five minutes before you're ready to serve, crack the eggs around the circumference of the pan. Cover the pan and let the eggs poach for 5 minutes for runny yolks or 7 minutes for firm yolks. Scoop onto plates and serve.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Winter Squash and Greens Lasagna Rolls

I do not eat enough lasagna. For something that I love so much, it appears on my dinner plate far too infrequently because it's generally a meal for a big crowd, not for just a couple of servings. Enter lasagna rolls, which make both an elegant dish for a large gathering, but are also easily freezable  individual portions. I've long been thinking I should give them shot, only dissuaded by the effort of assembling all the individual rolls. But when a favorite coworker that I persuaded to join the same CSA told me this was her favorite use of our copious deliveries of winter squash, I knew I had to try it. Neither one of us are the kind of women who go in for "skinny" recipes, but despite that moniker, this recipe is absolutely delicious.

Butternut squash and spinach are the original combination, and quite delicious, but this recipe can certainly extend to other winter squash and hearty greens, like acorn squash and Swiss chard or delicata squash and kale. I object on principle to fat-free dairy (perhaps it's my Wisconsin roots), opting instead for part-skim, which I prefer because of the slightly lighter texture. The nuttiness of whole wheat noodles complements the sweetness of the squash and earthiness of the greens much better than the regular white variety, but any kind will make a suitable canvas for this comforting meal. Rich and cheesy, but packed with nutrition, this cozy meal will satisfy on even the coldest of winter nights.

Winter Squash and Greens Lasagna Rolls
adapted from SkinnyTaste
makes 9 rolls

1 pound butternut or other winter squash, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

9 whole wheat or whole grain lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions to al dente
10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach, kale, or Swiss Chard heated and squeezed well
15 ounce part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 ounces shredded mozzarella (or mozzarella-provolone blend) cheese

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add butternut squash and cook until soft. Remove squash with a slotted spoon, reserve about 1 cup of the water and set aside, then blend until smooth with an immersion blender, adding 1/4 cup of the reserved liquid to thin out.

2. Meanwhile, in a large deep non-stick skillet, add the oil, sauté the shallots and garlic over medium-low heat until soft and golden, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add pureed butternut squash, season with with salt and fresh cracked pepper and add a little more of the reserved water to thin out to your liking. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese and set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Ladle about 1/2 cup butternut sauce sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 12 baking dish.

4. Combine spinach, ricotta, Parmesan, egg, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Place a piece of wax paper on the counter and lay out lasagna noodles. Make sure noodles are dry. Take 1/3 cup of ricotta mixture and spread evenly over noodle. Roll carefully and place seam side down onto the baking dish. Repeat with remaining noodles.

5. Ladle remaining sauce over the noodles in the baking dish and top evenly with shredded cheese. Put foil over baking dish and bake for 40 minutes, or until cheese melts and everything is hot and bubbly. Makes 9 rolls.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Steak, Edamame, and Cabbage Stir-Fry with Peanut Sauce

I don't know people with nut allergies survive sometimes. Not only do tons of products you'd never suspect have the potential to contain trace amounts, but nuts add flavor and nutrition to so many meals. Personally, I'm a sucker for anything with peanut butter or peanut sauce. For dessert, peanut butter and chocolate are an undeniably wonderful pair, but peanut butter and chilies make just as great a pair in savory applications.

I came across this while looking for ways to use up a formidable head of red cabbage but the truth is, just about any veggie would taste great stir-fried and drizzled with this peanut sauce. The sweet, savory, spicy sauce is the perfect contrast to the fresh and crunchy vegetables, rich enough to be filling, but not so much as to bury the steak and edamame. I love this with warm ingredients straight from the wok, but I can see this sauce in cold noodle dishes (or leftovers) or as a dipping sauce for spring rolls or dumplings as well.

Steak, Edamame, and Cabbage Stir-Fry with Peanut Sauce
adapted from Eating Well
serves 4

1/4 cup smooth natural peanut butter
1/3 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
4 teaspoons canola oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces pound flank steak, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 small head Savoy or red cabbage, thinly sliced
2-5 tablespoons water
2 medium carrots, grated
1 cup cooked edamame
1/4 cup chopped unsalted roasted peanuts, (optional)
Sriracha or other hot sauce, for serving (optional)
Rice or noodles, for serving (optional)

1. Whisk peanut butter, orange juice, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and red pepper flakes in a medium bowl until smooth. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add steak and cook, stirring, until browned and barely pink in the middle, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

2. Reduce heat to medium. Swirl in the remaining 2 teaspoons oil. Add cabbage and 2 tablespoons water; cook, stirring, until beginning to wilt, 3 to 5 minutes. Add carrots and edamame (and more water if necessary to prevent sticking or burning) and cook, stirring, until just tender, about 3 minutes more. Return the steak and any accumulated juices to the pan, then pour in the peanut sauce and toss to combine. Serve topped with peanuts and hot sauce over noodles or rice, if desired.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Leek and Potato Soup with Winter Greens

Even at its most basic, potato leek soup is thing of beauty. Some sort of alchemy occurs when those two elements come together with just a little fat, salt, and water and the result is positively addictive. But that doesn't mean it's not worth tinkering with. This version is a slightly elevated version of  the basic, starting with an intensely flavored, silky homemade stock. Making stock from scratch certainly lengthens the time from fridge to table, but there's plenty of time for all the other prep work while it slowly simmers on the stove. The addition of fresh spinach or other winter greens ups the nutrition factor and lightens the body, with the final finishing touches of bright lemon juice and fresh dill uniting all the elements. A classic with a little hint of something extra, this soup is simple, soul-warming, from-scratch cookery at its finest. And that's exactly what you need when winter rears its ugly head.

Leek and Potato Soup with Winter Greens
adapted from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics
serves 6 to 8

10 cups water
3 leeks, sliced down the center and well-rinsed
1 1/2 cups peeled and coarsely chopped carrots
4 cups coarsely chopped potatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups baby spinach, kale, or Swiss chard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (or 2 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Add water to a large soup pot. Cut the dark green tops off the leeks, rinse well to remove any hidden sand, and stir them into the pot. Add the carrots, about half of the potatoes, the thyme, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer the stock for about 45 minutes.

2. While the stock simmers, remove the root ends from the leeks, peel of the outermost later, and chop the white and most tender green parts.

3. In a large sup pot, saute the leeks in olive oil until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Strain the stock and add it to the fennel and leeks. Add the rest of the potatoes and simmer until soft, about 15 minutes. Stir in the spinach, dill, lemon juice, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

4. Puree the soup in batches in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth and silky. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Baked Chicken Nuggets

Even as a grown adult, sometimes I have cravings for foods usually relegated to the kid's menu. This certainly doesn't mean I'll be ordering a PB&J or buttered noodles at a restaurant, but I have been known to whip up a batch of chicken nuggets or chicken strips at home. It's true that I could pop over to McDonalds to try and satisfy this craving, but deep-fried meat sponges aren't exactly what I'm looking for.

These chicken nuggets just take minutes to prepare, and achieve a crunchy, delicious coating even without the more cumbersome traditional flour-egg wash-bread crumbs coating procedure. Parmesan and whole wheat bread crumbs would provide enough flavor on their own, but a favorite seasoning blend is a great way to set a flavor theme and pair the nuggets with side dishes if you're feeling suitably sophisticated. Whether feeding actual children or just filling up on nostalgia, these healthified nuggets are a great way to get dinner on the table in a hurry without the ramifications of the drive-through version.

Baked Chicken Nuggets
adapted from SkinnyTaste
serves 4

1pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into even bite-sized pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons olive or canola oil
1/2 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs, preferably panko
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon favorite purchased or homemade seasoning blend (seasoning salt, garlic salt, barbecue seasoning blend, etc.)
Olive or canola oil cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 425°. Spray a baking sheet with olive oil spray.

2. Put the olive oil in one bowl and the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and seasoning in another.

3. Season chicken with salt and pepper, then put in the bowl with the olive oil and mix well so the olive oil evenly coats all of the chicken.

4. Put a few chunks of chicken at a time into the breadcrumb mixture to coat, then on the baking sheet. Lightly spray the top with olive oil spray then bake 8 - 10 minutes. Turn over then cook another 4 - 5 minutes or until cooked though.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mini Pumpkin Pie with Whole Wheat Walnut Crust

You've done a lot of eating lately, and you're going to do a lot more. Moderation, in all things, is important, but I think it's okay to let loose the reins a bit this time of year and celebrate gastronomically with friends and family. You can always make resolutions on January 1st, right? I sampled everything on the Thanksgiving buffet (twice), but I will be trying to scale back from that Bacchanalia until Christmas feasting begins. Because it's the holiday season, I can't give up seasonal treats entirely, and this delightful little pie is perfect for indulging in modest portions without lots of leftovers. The whole wheat and walnuts make it a little more virtuous than your average crust, but it still holds the luscious filling that a pumpkin pie warrants. Cream cheese makes this pie especially rich and creamy, with sweet pumpkin eagerly soaking up vanilla, maple, and spices. A holiday tradition made miniature, this dessert is the perfect ending to an intimate holiday gathering.

Mini Pumpkin Pie with Whole Wheat Walnut Crust
adapted from Dessert for Two
serves 2 (generously) to 4 (scantily)

1 ounce (1/4 cup) walnuts
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2-3 tablespoons cold water

3 ounces Neufchâtel or cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons pure maple syrup, preferably Grade B
1/2 teaspoon homemade or purchased pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. First, toast the walnuts in a 350° oven for about 10 minutes, or until fragrant.

2. In a small food processor, pulse walnuts, flour, and sugar together until nuts are finely chopped and ingredients are combined. Add the diced butter and oulse a coarse meal forms.

3. Add the vinegar and 2 tablespoons of the cold water and pulse just until a dough forms. Use the remaining tablespoon of water if dough is not coming together.

4. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, press into a disc, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Once 30 minutes has elapsed, Preheat the oven to 375° and remove the dough from the fridge and lightly flour the counter.

5. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into an 8” circle. Gently move the dough to a 6-7” pie (or tart) pan. Gently fit the dough into the pan without stretching the dough. Fold the excess dough over to form a double edge. Prick the bottom with a fork in several places, and then bake on a small sheet pan for 13-15 minutes.

6. While the crust is baking, beat together the cream cheese, pumpkin and egg with an electric mixer. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until very well blended. Pour this mixture into the crust gently. Bake the tart for 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted 1” from the crust comes out clean. Let cool and serve cold or at room temperature.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pureed Beet Soup

I celebrated the way most Americans do this past weekend - by stuffing myself to the gills. Vegetables were certainly part of the feasting, but a far higher percentage of my diet was dedicated to meat and starches than usual, so a veggie-packed week is definitely in order the balance things back out. Beets are the last vegetable remaining in any great quantity in my fridge before my next CSA delivery on Wednesday, and a hearty beet soup is the perfect remedy to both of those problems.

Beets are a somewhat polarizing vegetable, and one I only came to appreciate in adulthood. While there can certainly be a soil-like nuance, when cooked properly they are a wonderful balance of earthy and sweet. This soup is beautifully simple, the classic pureed soup formula exploiting both of those elements, with the oft-forgotten final addition of acid that is so important to letting all the flavors bloom. Vegans or those really looking to cut back can omit the sour cream, but that final touch is what really enriches this soup and makes it hearty enough for a light winter meal.

Pureed Beet Soup
adapted from Martha Stewart
serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pounds beets, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or red wine vinegar
Sour cream, for serving (optional)

1. In a large Dutch oven or pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion. Season with salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.

2. Add beets, broth, and enough water (4 to 5 cups) to cover. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium, and simmer until beets are tender, about 20 minutes.

3. Using a blender or an immersion blender, puree broth and vegetables until smooth. If using a blender, work in batches and fill only halfway, allowing heat to escape: Remove cap from hole in lid, cover lid firmly with a dish towel, and blend. Transfer to a clean pot as you work. Adjust soup's consistency with a little water if necessary. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Stir in sour cream, if desired, and serve.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013 in Review - Leftovers Redux

When it comes to holiday feasts, I'm mostly a traditionalist. This year, as in years past, I cooked up an entirely homemade feast of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied sweet potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts and squash, rolls, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. While I relished each bite freshly prepared, the leftovers might be better than the main event. I ate my fill at dinner time and picked at leftovers throughout the day on Thursday, but Friday when was the experimenting began.

Leftovers found a new fate as soon as I woke up Friday morning, starting with oatmeal with candied sweet potatoes (made with butter, maple syrup, and walnuts) and cranberry sauce.

Sweet potatoes, turkey, and cranberry sauce found their way into my lunch in the form of turkey fried rice with sweet potatoes, peas, and a cranberry teriyaki sauce. If hadn't eaten all the squash and Brussels sprouts the day before, I would have used them here in lieu of the peas I had to retrieve from the freezer.

Cocktail hour is a fine way to start Friday night, with cranberry sauce finding a purpose there as well. In a take on a smash cocktail, I combined gin, cranberry sauce, lemon juice, and simple syrup, topped with an optional splash of soda water.

With my appetite properly whetted, I moved on to the main course - a turkey and Gruyere melt with cranberry sauce, a side of gravy for dipping, and candied sweet potato hash.

Saturday's lunch was a slapdash shepherd's pie, a fine place to use up turkey and any lingering veggies, or a way to sneak some fresh ones in.

The last of the mashed potatoes were devoured in a hearty Sunday morning breakfast of potato pancakes, dunked in the last of the gravy, and scrambled eggs with veggies.

Lunch was a bit lighter fare, the penultimate bits of turkey added to a spinach salad of red onion, dried cranberries, toasted walnuts, and blue cheese, topped with a cranberry sauce vinaigrette, and accompanied by the last of the rolls.

Breakfast for dinner is in the works for tonight, the very last of turkey likely finding its way into a hearty clean-out-the-fridge hash or quinoa stir-fry, officially closing out Thanksgiving and helping me get ready for my next winter CSA delivery on Wednesday.

So tell me, how did you use your leftovers?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Quinoa and White Bean Stuffed Acorn Squash

Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching and while that means I'll spend many hours in the kitchen lovingly preparing that meal, it also means that I don't have as much time for my regular eats in the days leading up to the big event. With crusts to be rolled, cranberries to be sauced, and birds to be brined, it's godsend to have a meal that spends much of its time unattended in the oven. Requiring little hands-on time without sacrificing flavor, this nutritional powerhouse is precisely what I needed to keep me on point rushing around house tackling chores.

Whenever I prepare dried beans or grains, I make big batches, portion them out, and store them in the freezer. This preparation leaves me without an excuse to skip a home-cooked meal and is what allowed me to put dinner on the table with a scant 20 minutes of effort on hectic weeknight. But even if I had to cook quinoa and drain a can of beans, it would be worth the effort. Those hearty ingredients blend with seamlessly with sweet squash, savory Parmesan, and fresh lemon, so though quite simple, it hits all the taste buds quite nicely and in lovely balance. For me this was fueling up for pre-Thanksgiving preparations, but if you're hosting someone who won't be partaking in the turkey, there's no reason not to break this out for the big event as well.

Quinoa and White Bean Stuffed Acorn Squash
adapted from HGTV
serves 2

1 acorn or festival squash
1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup prepared white beans
1 ounce baby spinach (optional)
1/4 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Slice the acorn squash in half, from the tip to the bottom. Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and discard. Place the two pieces of squash on a baking sheet.

3. Divide the butter in half and place each pat of butter in the center of the squash. Season with salt and pepper. Add 1 cup of water to the bottom of the baking dish to ensure that the bottom of the squash doesn't burn.

4. Place the squash in the oven and let it roast for 60-70 minutes until the insides of the squash are fork tender.

5. In a large skillet, add the olive oil over medium high heat. Sauté the onion for about 5 minutes until they are translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute more. Add the beans, quinoa, and spinach, if adding, and cook until greens are wilted and quinoa and beans are warmed through. Remove the skillet from heat, mix in half of the Parmesan cheese, and adjust seasoning as needed.

6. Place half of the quinoa mixture in each of the squash cavities. Sprinkle half of the remaining Parmesan on each squash half.

7. Place the squash back into the oven for about 5 to 10 minutes, just until Parmesan cheese is melted. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Baked Potato Chips

I'm not sure if I love it or hate it that I get a five pound bag of amazing potatoes with every CSA delivery. While I love every bite of their starchy goodness, there's no denying that the arrival of such a bounty definitely increases my uptake of these delicious tubers to levels much higher than normal.
My red potatoes made first for a pretty fine soup and a few batches of fries, but then my thoughts turned to chips. I don't often buy them because I'll end up treating a bag of Kettle Chips as a single serving, but I'm certainly willing to put in a little effort if it gets me to salty snack nirvana at a more reasonable serving size. With just a little oil and generous dash of salt, the oven can produce some wonderfully satisfying chips.

Texture varies quite significantly with the thickness of the slices. Despite my best efforts, no oven baked chips will turn out exactly like the deep-fried variety, but these are amazingly satisfying. 1/4-inch-thick slices are roasted potatoes than actual chips, but the 1/8- to 3/16-inch-thick slices become quite light and crispy. This recipe is very basic, great for any potato you'd like to experiment with, but you'll want to check in periodically before you become familiar with how a particular type of potato cooks. The chips are delicious with just salt, but you should also try tossing them with any kind of spice blend or seasoning salt you like or adding cheesy flavor with freshly grated Parmesan or nutritional yeast (for vegans). They're not a health food by any means, but perhaps a bit more special than the store-bought variety, at least because of the effort that went into them. And if you feel so inclined, they make a pretty spectacular batch of Irish Nachos too.

Baked Potato Chips
adapted from Martha Stewart
serves 4

Olive oil cooking spray
2 pounds potatoes, cut into 1/8 to 3/16-inch-thick slices
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Seasoning blend, to taste (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat 2 rimmed baking sheets with cooking spray; set aside. Put potatoes, oil, and salt in a large bowl; season with pepper, i. Toss to combine.

2. Arrange potato slices on prepared baking sheets, spacing them 1/4 inch apart. Bake, flipping periodically and rotating sheets halfway through, until potatoes are crisp and golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Spread out potatoes on parchment paper; let dry 5 minutes. Sprinkle with additional salt and/or seasoning mix, if desired.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Chicken Spiedies

Packer snacks are a proud tradition in my household. Ever since I was a tiny girl, Sunday afternoons from September to January were dedicated to football with Dad. This afternoon was always accompanied by a special snack, the first bite of which must be taken exactly as the kicker's foot makes contact with the ball at kickoff (my rule, not his). I've continued this tradition as an adult and this year choosing signature foods from the opposing team's city/region to pair with each game. I love how this theme has allowed me to cook up some familiar specialties, but the Giants opponent brought me to the first completely new regional food I came across in my football cookery.

It's strange that marinated and grilled chunks of meat on bread isn't a recipe that has myriad regional versions, but it seems that the Southern Tier of New York (more specifically, the greater Binghamton area) is the only place to fervently embrace it. Chicken is the most common protein, and though many marinade recipes exist, I chose to make my own of the fairly classic olive oil + lemon + herb variety. Unsurprisingly, grilled meat on bread is delicious! The marinade keeps the chicken moist and deeply infuses it with flavor, so little more is required than a starchy canvas to serve it on, but the creamy sauce is the perfect finishing touch.

Chicken Spiedies
adapted from Cook's Country
serves 6

1/2 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons mayo
1 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (trimmed)
6 (6-inch) French, Italian, or sub rolls

1. Mix the oil, garlic, basil, oregano, lemon zest, salt, pepper and pepper flakes in a large bowl. Place 2 tablespoons of the oil mixture in another bowl and set aside.

2. Prick the chicken breasts with a fork all over on each side. Cut into 1 1/4 inch chunks and add to the marinade. Refrigerate and marinate for at least 30 minutes and no longer than 3 hours.

3. Whisk together mayo, vinegar and lemon juice with the 2 tablespoons of reserved oil mixture and refrigerate until ready to use.

4. Prepare grill over high heat. Remove the chicken from marinade and thread onto metal skewers. Place the skewers on the grill, turning frequently. Cook for 10-15 minutes. Remove from grill and allow chicken to rest for a few minutes

5. Place chicken on rolls and drizzle with mayonnaise mixture. Serve promptly.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cabbage, Potato and Leek Soup

Potato and leek soup is way more delicious than it deserves to be. Even at its most basic, the simple combination of leeks, potatoes, salt, and water, is amazingly delicious. But that being said, there's no reason not to experiment with the basic recipe, particularly when it uses up even more of my CSA vegetables.

I tend to go for a mixture of chunky and smooth in my potato-leek soup, but with cabbage playing an important role, the immersion blender stayed in the drawer. The leeks melt into the broth and the potatoes just begin to fall apart, blending with tangles of tender cabbage in each bite. Salt and pepper would be enough to season this dynamic combination, but the hint of herbaceous thyme and savory Parmesan really bring it all together. Thyme can be a polarizing ingredient, so use a light hand and swap it out for another herb if it's not to your liking. Hearty greens like spinach, kale, or chard, could be substituted for the cabbage, if necessary, but should be added at the end of the cooking process.

There have been a few schizophrenic weather turns, but these darker days and cool temperatures leave no doubt than winter's on its way. Even if I miss most of the daylight hours at work and have to bundle up each time I step outside, hearty bowls like this one are one the best reasons to embrace the season. Soup's on!

Cabbage, Potato and Leek Soup
adapted from the New York Times
serves 4

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 medium leeks, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
8 cups shredded cabbage
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium russet, Yukon Gold, or red potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Grated Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano, to serve (optional)
1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat, add the leeks and cook until soft and golden around the edges, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the cabbage and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until cabbage begins to caramelize, about 10 minutes.
2. Stir in potatoes, stock, 4 cups water, salt and thyme. Bring soup to a simmer and cook, partly covered, until potatoes begin to fall apart, 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. Add more water, as needed, to reach the desired consistency. Season with additional salt and black pepper and serve, topped with cheese.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Crunchy Vietnamese Cabbage Salad

Though too-often ignored, cabbage is a very versatile vegetable. You can slowly braise it until it's meltingly tender, stir-fry it to crisp-tender, or serve it raw and crunchy. The first part of my gigantic head of cabbage was dedicated to warm and comforting caramelized deliciousness, but my second foray is of a cool and refreshing variety. Cabbage slaws and salads themselves have almost the range of cabbage cookery in general, from rich and creamy to fresh and crisp, and my recipe being of the latter variety.

The bulk of the salad is composed of a typical cast of characters - cabbage, carrots, scallions, and cilantro - but the dressing is what truly makes it wonderful. A perfect balance of salty, sweet, savory, and spicy, it makes all of the fresh ingredients pop, accented by bits of rich and crunchy bits of peanuts in every bite. To complete the meal I topped with chicken for dinner and edamame for lunch, but I can see this happily coexisting with pork, shrimp, or tofu as well. With diest moving towards heartier cold-weather fare, this is a nice change of pace that doesn't leave you starving for additional sustenance or flavor.

Crunchy Vietnamese Cabbage Salad
adapted from the New York Times
serves 4

2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 jalapeño, mince, seeds and ribs removed to desired level of heat
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
4 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
6 cups shredded cabbage
1 large carrot, grated
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/2 cup coarsely chopped roasted, salted peanuts, plus more to serve
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus more to serve

1. To make vinaigrette, whisk together soy sauce, brown sugar, fish sauce, lime zest and juice, jalapeño and garlic. Whisk in 3 tablespoons oil. 

2. In a large bowl, toss together tofu, cabbage, carrot, scallions, half of the peanuts, cilantro and vinaigrette. Garnish with the remaining peanuts and additional cilantro.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Pasta With Caramelized Cabbage, Anchovies and Bread Crumbs

Until a few years ago, I didn't think of cabbage as much more than sauerkraut, coleslaw, and a bed for sausage. But there's only so much slaw a girl can eat, and with 3+ pound heads arriving on a regular basis in my CSA boxes, I have to get a little more creative. There's certainly no lack of inspiration from cuisines all around the world, but I decided to start with something homey and comforting as I looked out on the first snowfall of the season.

Cabbage is delicious from raw and crunchy to slow-cooked and meltingly tender, absorbing flavors differently at each point on the spectrum. Cooking the cabbage in a generous amount of olive oil at a high temperature gives the cabbage a deep caramelized flavor while maintaining a bit of texture, a nice balance of the benefits of leisurely and quick cooking. The seasoned bread crumbs happily cling to every available surface, adding crunch, flavor, and savoriness to every bite. A generous helping of Parmesan ups the umami factor and adds a finishing richness that really brings this all together. Though certainly filling enough on its own, this dinner can be fortified for heartier appetites with the addition of grilled salmon or chicken and a salad on the side.

Pasta With Caramelized Cabbage, Anchovies and Bread Crumbs
adapted from the New York Times
serves 4

5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 anchovy fillets
1/2 cup bread crumbs, preferably whole wheat panko
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried sage
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, plus more, to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
8 ounces small whole wheat pasta (rotini, penne, etc.)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
8 cups shredded cabbage
2/3 cup grated pecorino or Parmesan

1. Mince one garlic clove. Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the anchovies and cook, mashing with a spatula, until they dissolve into the butter. Stir in the minced garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in the bread crumbs and sage and cook until bread is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Season with black pepper. 

2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until barely al dente. Drain. 

3. While the pasta cooks, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining garlic and cook until golden brown. Add the chile and cook until fragrant. Stir in the cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Toss in the pasta and bread-crumb mixture and heat through, then quickly toss in the cheese and remove from heat. Season with salt and more pepper, if desired, and serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Stuffed Acorn Squash for Two

Without fail, my winter CSA means many meals of stuffed squash. I would make it occasionally in the years before I started getting a winter CSA share, but now it has become a staple fall/winter meal. I am constantly in search of new recipes and flavor combinations and this basic template allows me to easily experiment with myriad combinations of beans, grains, greens, and nuts. The amounts listed for the main ingredients here are all ranges because the size of the squash you're stuffing (and appetite) can vary quite a bit, but I typically lean towards the higher end so I can pack my squash to the absolute limit.

Sometimes I'll buy specific ingredients for combinations I think will be delicious, but more often than not I'm improvising with is in my pretty well-stocked pantry and fridge. To give you a little inspiration, I'll offer the tasty combination pictured above - quinoa, kale, cannellini beans, and walnuts - a meal equally appropriate for a weeknight dinner as a vegetarian main on Thanksgiving. (You can also keep it gluten-free by using quinoa or rice.) Flexible, delicious, nutritious, and easy, this recipe surely deserves a regular place in your winter meal rotation.

Stuffed Acorn Squash for Two
adapted from Whole Living
serves 2

1 halved and seeded acorn, festival, or delicata squash
1 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 diced large onion
2 teaspoons chopped fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried herbs
1/3 to 1/2 cup cooked beans (white, black, pinto, garbanzo, etc.)
1/3 to 1/2 cup cooked grains (quinoa, brown rice, bulgur, couscous, etc.)
1 to 2 cups chopped hearty greens (kale, spinach, Swiss chard, etc.)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, optional
2 Tbsp chopped toasted nuts or seeds, divided (hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pecans pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.)
Lemon or balsamic (or other) vinegar

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Brush squash with 1 teaspoon oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast cut side down until tender, about 30 minutes. Flip and set aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until tender, about 6 minutes. Add herbs, beans, grains, and greens. Cook, stirring, until greens wilt, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Divide stuffing between squash halves, top with Parmesan, and roast until golden, 15 to 20 minutes.

4. For each serving, sprinkle with 1 tablespoons nuts or seeds and squeeze with lemon or vinegar.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Blue Cheese and Bacon Dog with Sriracha Mayo

This football season I've been choosing the snacks I make for the Packer game based on the rival city/region and through that process I've learned of many a special regional hot dog. Detroit has the Coney Dog, Cleveland has the Polish Boy, and Chicago (obviously) has the Chicago dog, and I've made and devoured each one with aplomb. But never one to leave well-enough alone, I've been inspired to get creative on my own.

Blue cheese and bacon are a tried-and-true delicious combination, so it's no surprise that they'll make an all-natural, natural casing hot dog even more delicious. But with all that richness, there needs to be distinct elements to cut through it, and that contrast is perfectly achieved by the sharp scallions and spicy Sriracha mayo. Blue cheese can be a very polarizing ingredient, and although I think its funk is an important flavor component, sharp cheddar could be substituted for a version with wider appeal.

There's still a few of my Pecatonica Valley Farm hot dogs left in the freezer, so I doubt this is the last you've seen of my hot dog creations. I've got a fridge packed with winter CSA vegetables and a mind racing with ideas, so it can't be long until some of them come together with my latest favorite culinary canvas.

Blue Cheese and Bacon Dog with Sriracha Mayo
serves 1, easily multipliable

1 hot dog, preferably natural casing and nitrite- and nitrate-free
1 tablespoon mayo
1/4 teaspoon Sriracha, or to taste
1 hot dog bun, preferably whole grain

1 slice thick-cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions

1. Cook hot dog via method of choice (grilling is best, but in a pinch even the microwave will do).

2. Meanwhile, combine mayo and Sriracha in a small bowl and and stir until well-combined. Spread on one side of the hot dog bun.

3. Place cooked hot dog on bun and top with crumbled bacon, scallions, and blue cheese. Serve promptly.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Parsley Tabbouleh with Chickpeas

Have I convinced you to pick up some bulgur yet? If not, this recipe may provide some additional inspiration. Everyone who has been to a Mediterranean restaurant is surely familiar with tabbouleh, a light and fresh combination of bulgur and parsley that is a staple of the cuisine. Though a grain-heavy version may be encountered much more frequently these days, the traditional recipe is more of a parsley dish than a bulgur dish, bursting with copious amounts of fresh herbs. Tabbouleh typically appears as part of a meze, one of many tastes in a generous spread, but I've turned it into a light main dish with the addition of chickpeas and feta. Traditional ingredients still form the backbone of this salad, so you won't be missing any of the classic flavors with the transition from side to main dish. Fresh and light flavors dominate with generous amounts of fresh veggies and herbs, but the chewy bites of bulgur, salty tastes of feta, and hearty nibbles of chickpeas keep each bite interesting and varied.

I kept all the elements fairly classic, but using quinoa in lieu of the bulgur is great way to start experimenting with the traditional recipe. This is most obviously served in the summer when steamy temperatures demand light meals, but also a nice way to break out of the cold weather meat and potatoes rut it's all too easy to get stuck in.

Parsley Tabbouleh with Chickpeas
adapted from Eating Well
serves 4

2 cup water
1 cup bulgur
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 cups finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, (about 2 bunches)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
2 tomatoes, diced
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
4 ounces crumbled feta (optional)

1. Combine water and bulgur in a small saucepan and cook according to package directions. If any water remains, drain bulgur in a fine-mesh sieve. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool for 15 minutes.

2. Combine lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Add parsley, mint, tomatoes, cucumber, scallions, and chickpeas to the bulgur. Add the dressing and feta, if using, and toss ingredients together. Serve at room temperature or chill for at least 1 hour to serve cold.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Bulgur Salad with Chickpeas, Roasted Peppers, and Feta

Ideally, I have a good supply of prepared and portioned cooked whole grains in my freezer at all times. In reality, this doesn't always happen, so I make sure to always have plenty of quick-cooking whole grains in my pantry like couscous, quinoa, and bulgur. Bulgur takes less than half an hour to cook and is an eager sponge for flavors, making it a perfect choice for quick lunch or dinner. Whole grains + veggies + beans + cheese is one of my favorite meal templates, and while it can accommodate any odds and ends you happen to have, this combination is delightful enough to be worth repeating. Bulgur is delightfully nutty, and the roasted peppers and salty feta complement it well. The parsley adds freshness, red onion a sharp accent, and the chickpeas substance, with a smoky, spicy vinaigrette blending it seamlessly together.

I can't complain about this recipe as written, but there is a certainly a world of variations to be explored. Don't have bulgur? Swap it out for quinoa or brown rice. Not a fan of chickpeas? Try black, pinto, or navy beans. Cilantro can stand in for parsley, goat cheese can replace feta...the list of substitutions goes on and on. Carnivores can add grilled meat (I especially recommend steak) and vegans can substitute extra beans for the cheese, making this recipe universal, even if trying to avoid meat, dairy, or gluten. I made this for one when making a quick lunch, but it can certainly be scaled up to feed a crowd.

Whether prepared verbatim, or merely used as inspiration, this is the kind of recipe that every busy person should keep in their back pocket.

Bulgur Salad with Chickpeas, Roasted Peppers, and Feta
adapted from Epicurious
serves 1

3/4 cup prepared bulgur (from 1/4 cup uncooked)
1/4 cup chickpeas
1/4 cup roasted red and/or yellow peppers
2 tablespoons chopped or thinly sliced red onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped parley
2 tablespoons/0.5 ounce crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine bulgur, chickpeas, roasted peppers, red onion, parsley, and feta cheese in a bowl and toss to combine. 

2. Whisk the oil, lemon juice, honey, cumin, cayenne, together in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Add dressing to salad and stir gently. Serve at room temperature or cold.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Chicken Nachos Blanco with Tomatillo Salsa

While I am a fan of authentic Mexican cuisine, particularly Oaxacan, I also indulge in foods that many Mexicans wouldn't even recognize. Nachos are a prime example. Rick Bayless has provided me with an ample supply of genuine recipes that combine cheese, tortillas, and salsa, but sometimes a Friday night just calls for some homemade bar snacks.

My winter CSA starts on Wednesday, so I've been steadily working through all the spoils of my summer garden that I've preserved in my freezer in order to make room for the bounty of the new season. My tomatillo plants were more than generous this year and though I've turned all my tomatillo sauces into chilaquiles and smothered burritos, I decided to make a little more room by digging into my cache of tomatillo salsas. Because nachos already lack authenticity, anything goes in terms of toppings, but sometimes you can't beat a simple combination of salsa, cheese, and chips, especially when made better with homemade and high-quality ingredients. Using a cheese sauce ensures that the maximum amount of surface area is coated with dairy goodness, and the spicy tomatillo salsa is just the right accent to cut through the richness. Layering the ingredients packs every bite with salsa, cheese, and chicken, and giving the finished dish a quick toast in the oven melds every flavor together.

It may take a little longer than melting some salsa and Velveeta together, but it's exactly the reward you deserve after a long day. And don't forget to whip up a fresh margarita while the nachos are in the oven.

Chicken Nachos Blanco with Tomatillo Salsa
serves 1

1/2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1/2 tablespoon flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup milk
2 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 ounces tortilla chips
1/2 cup shredded or chopped cooked chicken
1/2 cup tomatillo salsa

1. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch each of salt and pepper and saute until the onions are tender, just a couple of minutes. Add the flour, stir to form a paste, and cook until any foaming stops, the raw flour flavor is gone, but the roux is not brown, about 2 minutes. Add milk, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook over low to medium-low heat until the mixture is thick, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add cheese, stir until melted and keep warm.

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place half the chips on an oven-safe dish and top with half of the cheese sauce, chicken, and salsa. Repeat layers with remaining ingredients. Bake until all ingredients are warmed through and cheese sauce is beginning to bubble, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven and serve promptly.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Roasted Eggplant and Lentil Soup

In addition to a zucchini of epic portions, my garden had several eggplants still waiting for a culinary destiny when I did my final clean-up. And as with my zucchini, I chose soup to put the fruits of my hard labor to good use. I've had lentils on the brain since making Pan-Seared Salmon with Braised Lentils and Swiss Chard, and I was more than happy to find I wasn't the only one who thought their earthiness would make a winning combination with eggplant. (Chickpeas also pair splendidly).

My biggest objection to the original recipe was that it failed to use the delicious and nutritious skin of the eggplant. The skin blends down to tiny, beautiful purple flecks, adding a nice visual element to the mostly monochromatic soup. Milk or half-and-half add richness and creaminess to the soup, but vegans could substitute a nondairy milk (soy, almond, cashew, coconut, etc.) or additional water or broth. The tangy touch of yogurt or sour cream is lovely finishing touch, but vegans could leave that out as well, perhaps adding an extra splash of lemon juice to bump up the sour accent.

It may feature a summer vegetable, but this chunky, filling soup is perfect for a cozy fall dinner. Delicious right out of pot, leftover the next day for lunch, or even plucked from the freezer, this soup is a quick and easy way to fill your belly when the early sunset has your evening energy fading fast.

Roasted Eggplant and Lentil Soup
adapted from Food and Wine
serves 4

One 1 1/4-pound eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup lentils
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or low-sodium broth or water
1 cup milk or half-and-half
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Plain yogurt or sour cream, for serving (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Toss eggplant pieces with  olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake until the eggplant is very tender, turning occasionally, about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, cover the lentils with 2 inches of water. Simmer over low heat until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the lentils in a colander.

3. Add eggplant to blender. Add 1 cup of the stock and puree until smooth; transfer to a clean saucepan. Add the lentils and the remaining 1 cup of stock to the blender and puree until smooth. Add the lentil puree to the eggplant puree in the saucepan.

4. Stir the milk and lemon juice into the soup and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper; keep the soup hot over low heat, stirring occasionally. Divide into four bowls and stir in yogurt or sour cream, if desired.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Puréed Zucchini Soup With Curry

It is way too late in the year to have a zucchini recipe to share, but alas, the two-pound monster zucchini I found while cleaning up my gardens for the year thought otherwise. A two-pound zucchini is a formidable culinary undertaking, and the quickest way to put it all to good use was a hearty pot of soup. It starts with a classic base and subtle additions of curry and rice give it a special touch. Curry is added with a light hand so the soup does not have an assertive Indian flavor, but instead a subtle hint of warming spices in the background of each bite. Zucchini makes a surprisingly smooth soup on its own, but the addition of rice gives it additional body and silkiness.

This soup was originally intended to be a spring dish, but I don't think it would be a stretch to use this same recipe with a hearty winter squash as well. With my first CSA pick up just over a week away, I may be back to try out that hypothesis very soon.

Puréed Zucchini Soup With Curry
adapted from the New York Times
makes 4 to 6 servings

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small white or yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds zucchini, diced (about 7 cups diced)
2 teaspoons curry powder
6 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
1/4 cup brown basmati rice
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper (I like a lot of it in this soup)
Pinch of cayenne
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it is tender, about 5 minutes. Add a generous pinch of salt, the garlic and the zucchini and stir for about a minute, until the garlic smells fragrant. Add the curry powder, stir together, and add the stock or water, the rice and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Taste and adjust salt.

2. Purée the soup with an immersion blender or a food mill or in batches in a blender, taking care to remove the lid or take out the center insert and to cover with a towel to avoid hot splashes. Return to the pot, heat through, add pepper and cayenne to taste and stir in the lemon juice.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Smoky Spiced Tempeh and Quinoa Salad

Good food is good food, no matter the amount of animal protein it contains. Although I'm most certainly not a vegan or vegetarian, most of my meals fall under one of those categories. I'm not a fan of faux meat products, but appreciate soy products for exactly what they are and am game when tingredients like tempeh appear in a recipe. Partnering with super food quinoa, this probably could only sound more like a vegan hippie recipe if nutritional yeast was in the name, but I still couldn't get enough of it.

Tempeh and quinoa are nutritious, though fairly neutral ingredients, and this expertly curated spice blend is why the salad is so delicious. I doubt I would be able to re-create spice list just from taste, but I do know that each bite is packed with smoky, spicy, and savory notes that keep me shoveling this versatile salad into my face. Spread on bread or into a tortilla or pita it makes for a fine sandwich, a delightful salad atop greens, and a delicious spread for crackers, as the source recipe suggests. My first inclination after making it, however, was none of these options. While portioning into lunch-size servings, I realized that texture makes it perfectly suited for a "veggie" burger, so I formed a patty and threw it into a hot pan straight away. It would have been delicious with just a smear of Dijon and some greens, but I couldn't resist melting some raw cheddar over the top (to the horror of vegans everywhere).

What this salad lacks in beauty, it makes up for in flavor, and it is a great opportunity to turn people around on a couple of ingredients that often give pause. But even if you're not ready to take the plunge with tempeh and quinoa, you've still got the perfect new spice mix to try out in a batch of veggie burgers or tuna salad.

Smoky Spiced Tempeh and Quinoa Salad
adapted from The Kitchn
makes about 2 cups

8 ounces tempeh
1 cup cooked and cooled quinoa
2 tablespoons regular or vegan mayonnaise
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Small dash of ground cloves
Small dash of ground cinnamon

1. Cut the tempeh into 1-inch chunks (no need to be precise). Fill a saucepan with an inch or two of water and place a steamer basket inside. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Place the tempeh in the basket, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Steam for 15 minutes, remove tempeh, and let cool.

2. Place the tempeh in a food processor and pulse until crumbly. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until the mixture comes together. Taste and adjust seasonings, if desired. (Alternatively, you can crumble the tempeh and mix in the other ingredients by hand.)

3. Serve with a green salad, as a taco filling, or as a spread for sandwiches or crackers.

4. Salad may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Quick-Cooked Tomatillo-Chile Sauce

Earlier this week I shared a recipe for Fresh Green Tomatillo Sauce, so it now it's time to share one that is a bit farther down the cooked scale. In the previous sauce the flavor profile featured the tartness, but in this sauce acidic notes are muted in favor of a deeper, earthier flavor. It doesn't go as far as Roasted Tomatillo Salsa, which is all about the roasted and smoky flavors, but nicely bridges those two extremes. Again we see chiles, cilantro, and onion making an appearance, garlic and stock fortifying the flavor even further. With that usual cast of characters, this is most certainly a pleasing preparation for any tomatillo lover, but the gentler acidic character will appeal to larger audience of non-tomatillo devotees.

Any of the suggestions I made for Fresh Green Tomatillo Sauce are just as appropriate for this variation, though I heartily endorse its use in the shredded pork chilaquiles pictured above. As I steadily make my way through my freezer cache in order to make room for my impending winter CSA, I am both delighting in the revisiting these summer flavors and sad to see them go. But when you love food and cooking as much as I do, each day has the potential for culinary adventure. Who knows? This concentrated summer flavor just may end up meeting up with hearty winter squash.

Quick-Cooked Tomatillo-Chile Sauce
makes about 2 1/2 to 3 cups
adapted from Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless

1 pound (11 medium) fresh tomatillos, husked and washed OR two 13-ounce cans tomatillos, drained
Fresh hot green chiles to taste (roughly 3 chiles serranos or 2 chiles jalapenos), stemmed
5 or 6 sprigs fresh coriander (cilantro), roughly chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon lard or vegetable or canola oil
2 cups any low-sodium poultry, meat, or vegetable broth or stock (depending on how the sauce is to be used)
Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon (depending on the saltiness of the broth)

1. The tomatillos. Boil the fresh tomatillos and chiles in salt water to cover until tender, 10 to 15 minutes; drain. Simply drain the canned tomatillos.

2. The puree. Place the tomatillos and chiles (raw ones if using canned tomatillos) in a blender or food processor, along with the coriander, onion, and garlic; if using a blender, stir well. Process until smooth, but still retaining a little texture.

3. The sauce. Heat the lard or oil in a medium-large skillet set over medium-high. When hot enough to make a drop of the puree sizzle sharply, pour it in all at once and stir constantly for 4 or 5 minutes, until darker and thicker. Add the broth, let return to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until thick enough to coat a spoon, about 10 minutes. Season with salt.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fresh Green Tomatillo Sauce

I finally cleaned out my gardens last week. My final harvest yielded a good amount of eggplant, some jalapenos, poblanos, and mini sweet bell peppers, a couple tomatoes, a surprise 2+ pound zucchini the size of my forearm, and even a few last tomatillos from plants that looked like they were in their death throes, yet were flowering at the same time. Apparently it's not just my mutant plants hanging on for dear life, as I saw a couple vendors still selling a few tomatillos, but I thought I should share a few last tomatillo recipes before all vestiges of this favorite fruit disappear.

If you know me or Mexican cooking, it should be no surprise that I went straight to Rick Bayless for recipes. I can't say enough about how much I love his cookbooks and recipes, so I expect nothing less than  perfection when I try his recipes. And you know what? I'm never disappointed. I've made seemingly countless tomatillo sauces at this point, mostly from his recipes, all with their own unique character. As the name would suggest, this sauce is fresh and vibrant, celebrating all the tart and citrusy notes of the tomatillo. Hot chiles, cilantro, and onion are familiar companions, this classic combination just as delicious with barely cooked tomatillos as deeply roasted ones.

There's no end to the ways this sauce can be used. A few suggestions include a dip for chips, topping for tacos, tostados, and eggs, or sauce for smothered burrito pictured above, though that is certain not an exhaustive list. If you like tomatillos, you're almost guaranteed to love this sauce, relishing in it's spicy, tart flavor brightens up any dish it is added to.

Fresh Green Tomatillo Sauce
makes about 1 ½ cups

8 ounces (5 or 6 medium) fresh tomatillos, husked and washed
OR one 13-ounce can tomatillos, drained
Fresh hot green chiles to taste (roughly 2 chiles serranos or 1 chile jalapeno), stemmed
5 or 6 sprigs fresh coriander (cilantro), roughly chopped
½ small onion, chopped
Salt, about ½ teaspoon

1. The tomatillos: Boil fresh tomatillos in salted water to cover until barely tender, 8 to 10 minutes; drain. Canned tomatillos only need to be drained.

2. The puree: Place the tomatillos in a blender or food processor. If you want a milder sauce, seed the chile(s), then chop into small bits and add to the tomatillos along with the coriander and chopped onion; if using a blender, stir well. Blend or process to a coarse puree.

Finishing the sauce: Scrape into a sauce dish, thin to medium-thick consistency with about ¼ cup water, then season with salt. Let stand for about ½ hour before serving, for the flavors to blend.

Traditional Variations

Chunky Tomatillo Sauce: Prepare the sauce as described, finely chopping the chile, onion and coriander, then adding them to the blended tomatillos. If the chopped onion is rinsed, the sauce will sour less quickly.

All-Raw Tomatillo Relish: Prepare the sauce with chopped raw tomatillos, adding ¼ cup water before blending. Taste for salt and stir in additional water, if needed.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Baltimore Pit Beef

I can't resist an opportunity for rituals, especially around food, and this year I've decided that my Packer snacks will be themed around the city/region of the opposing team. To play the 49ers, I made Mission-style burritos, chili for the Redskins, Cincinnati Chili for the Bengals, Coney Dogs for the Lions, and most recently, pit beef for the Ravens. Pit beef is a recipe for a crowd, but luckily I was hosting a house full of hungry men when I cooked up this recipe. Grilled meat is a pretty good bet to satisfy a crowd even in its simplest form, but this beefy goodness is made even more sublime with a simple, well-balanced spice rub and pungent horseradish-based tiger sauce. I'm an avid fan of strong flavors like horseradish, but even my father, with his much more mild-mannered taste buds, said that the tanginess of the tiger sauce hit just the right balance with the rich, smoky, salty beef. Raw onion, another polarizing ingredient, adds a nice sharp note that accents the rest of the flavors, though both the onion and sauce it can be easily omitted for those who find it to be a bit too much.

The temperatures are still mild enough here to permit firing up the grill for this recipe, which will definitely give you the best flavor. If you'd rather keep warm and cozy inside, the beef can be roasted in the oven and finished with a sear in a cast iron pan to create a delightful, crusty exterior. A crowd-pleasing recipe for any gathering of carnivores from coast to coast, I hope you won't wait until your team plays the Ravens to cook up this delicious recipe.

Baltimore Pit Beef
adapted from Steven Raichlan, via the New York Times
makes 8 sandwiches

For the rub:
2 tablespoons seasoned salt
1 tablespoon sweet or smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 3-pound piece top round
8 kaiser (or other) rolls
Horseradish sauce (see below)
1 sweet white onion, sliced thin
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced thin (optional)
Iceburg lettuce (optional).

1. Combine ingredients for the rub in a bowl, and mix. Sprinkle 3 to 4 tablespoons all over the beef, patting it in. Place in a baking dish, and cover with plastic wrap. You can cover the beef with the rub for a few hours, but for maximum flavor, leave it for 3 days in the refrigerator, turning once a day.

2. Prepare a hot grill. Grill beef 30 to 40 minutes, or until outside is crusty and dark brown and internal temperature is about 120 degrees (for rare). Turn beef often. Transfer to a cutting board; let it rest 5 minutes.

3. Slice beef thinly across grain. Pile beef high on a roll or bread slathered with horseradish sauce. Garnish with onions, tomatoes and sliced lettuce. Serve.

Yield: 8 sandwiches.

Horseradish Sauce
yields 1.5 cups
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup prepared white horseradish, or to taste
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and black pepper to taste.

Combine ingredients in a bowl, and whisk to mix. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Indian-Spiced Eggplant & Cauliflower Stew

The more I experiment with my eggplant crop, the more I'm coming to appreciate what a versatile canvas it can be. Baba ganoush and eggplant Parmesan are two of the most iconic dishes for this gorgeous member of the nightshade family (ratatouille and moussaka being others), but I have to say I'm especially pleased with how it fares with the vibrant spices of Indian cuisine.

Curry powder and garam masala form the flavor backbone of this dish and their varieties myriad and varied, so choose ones that you really love for this recipe. Cauliflower and potato curry was the first one I ever prepared (and loved!), earning cauliflower an eternal welcome in any curry I make; it takes a turn as an expert companion to eggplant here. Onions, tomatoes, and chickpeas round out a typical cast of characters, all of those ingredients taking up classic Indian spices with great aplomb. The creamy swirl of yogurt or sour cream makes the tapestry of flavors especially vibrant, so barring veganism or lactose intolerance, I strongly encourage that finishing touch.

Though Indian food comes from a land that generally dare not dream of freezing temperatures, those flavors are just as delightful on chilly Wisconsin fall day as a searing one in Delhi. Flavorful bites call up images of warm and far away lands, while still linked to milder climes by familiar comforting spices of fall like cinnamon and cardamom.

Indian-Spiced Eggplant and Cauliflower Stew
adapted from Eating Well
serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1-pound eggplant, cut into 1-inch chunks
8 ounces small cauliflower florets
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream, (optional)
Pita, rice, or naan, for serving (option)

1. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add curry powder, garam masala and mustard seeds and toast, stirring, until the spices begin to darken, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl.

2. Add oil, onion, garlic, ginger and salt to the pot and cook, stirring, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in eggplant, cauliflower, tomatoes, chickpeas, water and the reserved spices. Bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Top each serving with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, if desired, and serve with pita, rice, or naan, if desired.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Roasted Eggplant and Chickpea Soup

Someone failed to tell my eggplants that it's fall, because they just keep producing. Temperatures slipped dangerously close to freezing last night, but as long as Jack Frost stays away, I'm going to let them keeping on growing. I'm glad this bumper crop arrived after my zucchini had waned, because turning eggplant into Thai curry, baba ganoush, and eggplant Parmesan has certainly kept me busy already. My winter CSA starts in just a couple of weeks and I'm confident I'll have put it all to good use by then.

The obvious place to turn to use up a lot of any one vegetable is soup, and though the list of ingredients is brief, this certainly isn't short on taste.There's a bit of chopping and peeling (if desired) involved to get your vegetables ready for primetime, but the ingredients mostly roast unattended, developing a deep flavor with minimal effort required. Chickpeas roast alongside the eggplant, onions, and garlic, picking up a nutty flavor and crunchy texture that is the perfect contrast to the silky, earthy eggplant. A dollop of yogurt or sour cream adds a rich, creamy, tangy accent, but isn't necessary if you're vegetarian or vegan.

This soup may be made with the last of my summer crop, but it most certainly has the soul of fall, each bite packed with the hearty texture and flavor necessary to fortify against the impending colder months.

Roasted Eggplant and Chickpea Soup
adapted from Martha Stewart
serves 4

2 medium eggplants (about 1 1/2 pounds total), peeled, if desired, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small yellow or white onion, diced medium
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
6 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed, drained, and patted dry
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth or water
Fresh oregano (optional)
Plain yogurt or sour cream (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss together eggplant, onion, garlic, and 4 teaspoons of the olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer in a roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet, leaving a wide strip of empty space at one end. In bowl, toss chickpeas with remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil. Transfer to empty space on sheet. Roast until eggplant is golden and cooked through and chickpeas are slightly crunchy, about 35 minutes.

2. Set chickpeas aside. Peel garlic and add to a medium pot, along with eggplant, onion, and broth. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium-high. With a potato masher or back of a wooden spoon, mash some eggplant until soup is thick and chunky, or puree to desired consistency with an immersion blender. Stir in chickpeas and season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, top with fresh oregano and plain yogurt, if desired.